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Oilers' Smyth, 'Captain Canada,' set to retire

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Ryan Smyth will play one final game with the Edmonton Oilers before calling it a career.

Smyth announced during a press conference Friday afternoon that the Oilers' game against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night will be his last.

"This is something that was ongoing for a while," Smyth said. "Six or seven months ago, I wanted to see how things go, and as it got close to the end, I knew in my heart it was the right timing. I'm thrilled to see what the next chapter holds for me."

Smyth is in his 19th NHL season, 15 of which were spent with the Oilers. He was selected by Edmonton with the sixth choice in the 1994 NHL Draft and played 11 seasons with the Oilers before being traded to the New York Islanders in 2007. After two seasons with the Colorado Avalanche and another two with the Los Angeles Kings, Smyth requested a trade back to Edmonton prior to the 2011-12 season.

Saturday will be Smyth's 1,270th career game. He'll go into it having scored 296 goals and 335 assists for the Oilers; in his career, he has 386 goals and 456 assists for 842 points. Smyth is the all-time leader in games played for the Oilers with 970 and is tied with Glenn Anderson for the franchise record in power-play goals with 126. He also played 93 Stanley Cup Playoff games, 68 with the Oilers.

But he said he knew it was time to move on.

"I just know down deep in my heart, that the mental side of the game, I didn't have it at times," Smyth said. "I have a wonderful family that I miss out on a lot of their stuff. That came into a factor in regards to being away and that kind of stuff.

"Physically, my body has taken a toll over the years, but it was more of the mental side."

Smyth, 38, scored a career-high 39 goals with the Oilers in 1996-97. He had career-best 70 points in the 2000-01 season.

Smyth also represented Canada on numerous occasions, earning the nickname "Captain Canada" for the number of times he played for his country. That list includes played in the 1995 World Junior Championships, eight World Championships, a World Cup of Hockey and two Winter Olympics. He was a member of the gold medal-winning Canadian team in 2002.

His teammates will be sorry to see him go.

"I'm lucky that I'm able to play with him [Saturday]," Oilers forward David Perron said. "Watching him growing up, he was one of my favorite players. The way he plays the game with grit, he was always around the net, being greasy and scoring those goals.

"He's a really special player and a special person that I got to know pretty well this year, we became pretty close and it's going to be tough to see him go."

Never the biggest, strongest or fastest skater in the League, Smyth carved out a lengthy career largely on determination. Few players seemed to enjoy being on the ice as much as Smyth, who addressed the team Friday morning.

"I think everyone knows he's not the fastest and he doesn't have the greatest shot, but man can he play the game, he's a gamer," Perron said. "I can't believe he was able to keep himself composed talking to us [Friday] morning, because I think everyone in the room was almost ready to tear up, including him. Basically, the biggest thing he said is that it's hard to play in this league, but it's even harder when you leave."

Seven years ago, when traded to the Islanders after being unable to come to terms on a contract extension with the Oilers, Smyth held an emotional press conference at the Edmonton International Airport. He became emotional at times again on Friday addressing the media beside Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish.

"My basic purpose up here was twofold," MacTavish said. "Provide the Kleenex and make myself available for interludes between sobbing. That was my primary purpose, outside of wanting, on behalf of the Edmonton Oilers organization, to thank Ryan, [wife] Stacey and your beautiful family for your unbelievable contribution to our organization and our city.

"When I think about Ryan, having coached him for many years and now having the pleasure of managing him, his contribution on the ice, it was always about the passion for the game. There are many players that have worn the Edmonton Oilers' jersey, but there are no players that have worn the jersey that had more passion than Ryan Smyth."

Smyth said he will be taking time following the season to focus on his family, but that he's had preliminary talks with MacTavish about joining the organization in some capacity in the future.

MacTavish, whose long playing career included three championship seasons with the Oilers, had words of wisdom for Smyth on his retirement.

"It's really a mixed bag of feelings that I have here," he said. "I'm sad to see Ryan's era end with the Edmonton Oilers and professional hockey, but also very happy at this point to really celebrate what has been an incredible career for an incredible Edmonton Oiler and an incredible person.

"I want to wish Ryan a tremendous amount of success in whatever you do. I hear there is happiness out there away from the game, I haven't personally found any, but I hear it exists."

The Oilers are expected to pay tribute to Smyth on Saturday, and he admitted taking the ice for the final time won't be easy.

"I'm an emotional guy, it's going to be tough," Smyth said. "There has been a lot of blood sweat and tears over the years. I'll just leave it at that."

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